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History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), 1963, pages 397-402:


Roles  and  Problems  of  the  Navy  During  the  Electronic  Age


The period between World Wars I and II and extending through the latter has often been called the electronic age. During this time improvements in vacuum tubes resulted in the devising of systems for their use which far overshadowed the radio communications for which they were initially developed. Some of these systems, developed under the impetus of "total war," caused an almost complete change in naval and air warfare and to some extent in land warfare. The electronic age may be divided into four periods.


The first of the periods includes the years between the end of World War I and the "radio broadcast boom" in 1922. During this time the Navy was the principal U.S. user of radio. Naval officers in control of radio policy considered that the future of reliable radio communications rested in the use of the narrow band, continuous waves generated by electronic equipments. At this time they were the sole supporters of the development of vacuum tubes and electronic equipment, and considerable sums were expanded in the hope of encouraging manufacturers to carry on the necessary work. The return on these expenditures were relatively meager and the equipments provided were in most part unreliable. The role of the Navy in encouraging the development of modern electronic communication equipment has been related in part II of this work.


The second period commences with the advent of radio broadcasting and continues through the "boom" period of the twenties. It is second in importance only to the World War II period. The radio broadcast industry was born and developed during this period and from this stemmed the rise of the American electronics industry. It also marks the beginning of industrial research in electronics, for heretofore most of the productive radio research had been conducted by or for the Navy. From the naval viewpoint the period marks the final development of an adequate and reliable radio communication system. Toward the end of this period naval radio plants were fitted with the best equipment in the world. The early part of these developments is covered in detail in part II. The remainder will be related in the following chapters.
    The development of the radio broadcast industry in this country was hampered to a large extent by controversy between the radio and telephone groups over the question as to which possessed vested interest in broadcasting. This struggle continued for several years and ended only when the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. quit the broadcasting field in June 1926.
    Some fundamental and therefore vital areas of growth in the electronics industry were retarded by monopolies of the Radio Corp. of America in the sales of certain radio components and in radio communications. As the sole radio sales agency of its two corporate parents the General Electric and Westinghouse Cos. and as a holder of most of the basic radio patents, it early endeavored to eliminate all other radio manufacturers regardless of previous patent rights. These actions stimulated Congress, in 1923, to direct the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the radio industry in the United States. Although the commission did not return an unfavorable report against the Radio Corp., it did create sufficient publicity for the latter to amend its practices and to license reliable firms at fairly high royalties. As the years passed these royalties were lowered to a reasonable level. However, the actions of the Radio Corp. and the General Electric and Westinghouse Cos. were sufficient to cause the Government to consider the possibility of the existence of a trust coalition. In May 1930 the Department of Justice instituted proceedings against the Radio Corp., its affiliated companies, and its corporate parents. This was finally settled by a consent decree in November 1932 wherein the General Electric and Westinghouse Cos. agreed to divest themselves of their interests in the Radio Corp.
    The advent of broadcasting posed a problem for the Navy. The number of broadcast stations mushroomed, especially in the large centers of population near our seacoast. These stations used the same portion of the frequency spectrum as had long been used by the Navy and there was no means to prevent them from so doing. Interference increased as the number of stations increased. The numbers of broadcast receivers purchased during these early years attests the popularity of this new medium of entertainment. The Navy's use of frequencies near those of broadcast stations brought forth floods of protests. Previous funds, from an appropriation which had been drastically reduced as a result of the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armaments, were utilized in an endeavor to reduce the interferences caused by the arc and spark transmitters. This, in turn, resulted in a reduction of funds available for the development of electronic radio equipment. Heretofore the Navy had supported the larger radio manufacturers in research for better tubes and for the development of satisfactory electronic transmitters. Lacking sufficient funds, this support had to be withdrawn at a time when communications were unsatisfactory for the handling of a unified fleet and before commercial interests were successful in developing satisfactory equipment. To alleviate the unsatisfactory condition of naval communications, naval research personnel resorted to modifying spark transmitters by replacing the spark gaps with vacuum tube oscillating units and thus developed an alternating current vacuum tube transmitter. These proved to be reliable stopgap equipments for intermediate and long-distance purposes. For intrafleet work they were forced to develop a keying unit for the low-powered short-range voice transceiver developed for use in submarine chasers during World War I.
    The increased usages of frequencies below 1,500 kc. caused the Navy to institute a study of the behavior of higher frequencies. In cooperation with the amateurs much information was gained. In 1925, during a voyage of the fleet to Australia and New Zealand, higher frequencies were successfully used for communication between the fleet and Washington. Following this a new frequency plan was evolved, and from this a long-range modernization plan was drawn up. In the meantime, under public pressure, the Government had agreed to use the broadcast band only on a noninterference basis as soon as practicable.
    While engaged in the study of the higher frequencies, personnel of the Naval Research Laboratory first noted that radio waves were reflected by objects and could be utilized for object detection. The recommendation that this be developed into a detection and locating system was made at that time, but the combination of limited funds, the need of improving radio communications, and the inherent conservatism of naval officers concerned with radio resulted in a failure to develop radar at that time.
    In cooperation with the Carnegie Institution, in a study of the ionosphere, personnel of the Navy's Laboratory, in 1925, developed a pulse transmitter which was used for measuring ionospheric heights.
    In furtherance of the Navy's radio modernization plan the Laboratory's personnel designed and developed high-frequency transmitters and receivers for naval usage. In seeking a means to eliminate the instability of the transmitters, they designed, developed, and constructed the first crystal-controlled high-frequency transmitter.
    By the time the depression hit the country, sufficient modern transmitters and receivers were under contract to complete the revised 1926 modernization plan. In 1930 the installation of this equipment was completed; afloat and ashore, the Navy possessed the best and most reliable radio communication system in the world. This was to prove unfortunate for it resulted in reduced naval research in this field for the following decade.
    By 1930 the spark and arc transmitters had practically disappeared. Installation of new spark equipment was outlawed. Radio, which had originally been developed as a means of communications, had become primarily a mode of entertainment and its former use was relegated to a secondary position, especially in the minds of the public. This had resulted in the necessity for tighter governmental control and had resulted in the temporary establishment of the Federal Radio Commission which was first headed by a retired naval officer. Later this Commission was made permanent and its title changed to the Federal Communications Commission.
    With the firm establishment of this regulatory board as the guardian and supervisor of commercial radio usage, the position of the Navy as Government spokesman for the industry drew to a close after two decades of endeavor to maintain the medium under necessary restrictions.
    In the field of sonar, research was continued at the Naval Research Laboratory, and steady improvement was obtained, thus increasing knowledge of oceanography.
    Research in flying missiles and radio-controlled aircraft was continued for the first half of this period but was finally halted by the slow rate of progress, the high cost of the work, and by reduced appropriations. The development of radio-controlled torpedoes, commenced during World War I, was completed in 1925.


The third period, which began in 1930 and ended with Hitler's invasion of Poland, was the result of the economic condition which settled over the world late in 1929. It is characterized by a limitation in research and development by both the military and commercial interests. Sales of commercial equipments fell off rapidly as unemployment rose and this forced many of the smaller manufacturers to close their businesses. The larger and more financially stable ones began the manufacture and sale of smaller compact receivers which sold at a much lower price. The two broadcast networks managed to continue operations at greatly reduced revenues. This was possible only because radio suddenly, because of its relatively low cost, became the country's prime means of entertainment and, since it provided the cheapest mode of advertising, permitted the continuance of broadcasting. At the beginning of the depression television was being developed, and this work was continued by the larger companies but on a much reduced scale.
    The Navy, with its appropriations cut to the core, was forced to drastically curtail its research program and at one time considered disestablishment of the Naval Research Laboratory. Early work on the decade frequency synthesizer, commenced by Dr. R. M. Page of the Laboratory in 1932, was instrumental in averting such a calamity. Some few improvements were made in radio equipment by service personnel, but these were limited in nature. The Dow electron-coupled circuit was devised to eliminate the necessity for crystal-controlled high-frequency transmitters, and better frequency standards were devised. Work was begun on a tactical radio transceiver using a frequency of about 60 mc. Research and development of electronic security equipment was begun but on a very limited scale. The Laboratory was able to continue its improvements on sonar.
    On 14 March 1934, when the economic situation had stabilized, work was commenced on the development of pulse radar at the Laboratory, and surprising progress was made by a small group of personnel. Later, congressional and military interest in the capabilities of the system was aroused, and Congress made direct appropriations in support of its development. Likewise, interest in the development of radio-controlled aircraft for antiaircraft target purposes was revived because of our lagging air defense.
    Throughout the period unrest was growing and war clouds began to appear on the horizon. The economic situation in the United States had commenced to stabilize and improve, but Hitler's political victories in Germany and Japanese actions in China forced us to step up our defenses and brought to an end the limitation of research in weapons systems.


The fourth period, extending beyond the successful conclusion of World War II, was a period in which far greater progress was made in the development of weapons systems than had ever been made during the lifetime of any single generation. Especially was this true in the development of systems utilizing electronic principles. Such progress could have been achieved only by a total alliance between: The users, in this case the military, which stated in broad terms its equipments requirements; the researchers, organized for total war, who developed these equipments and constructed "bread board" models; the designer-engineers who converted the "bread board" models into usable and manufacturable equipments; and a mobilized industry, capable of mass production of the necessary devices and systems.
    Fleet Adm. E. J. King, USN, who was concurrently Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, in his third report to the Secretary of the Navy, dated 8 December 1945 stated:
Perhaps the greatest technological advances of the entire war have been made in the field of electronics, both within the naval laboratories and in collaboration with the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Pre-existing radar sets were developed and new methods created for ship and airborne search, fire control and for accurate long-range navigation. Identification and recognition equipment were developed for use in conjunction with radar systems. New and highly efficient short-range radio telephones were used for tactical communication. In the successful anti-submarine campaign in the Atlantic, small radio-sono-buoys were used; these when dropped from aircraft, listened for the noise made by a submarine and automatically relayed the information to the searching plane. Underwater echo-ranging gear and listening equipment have been improved in quality and extended in function since the outbreak of the war. Countermeasures have been developed for jamming enemy radar and communication systems, disrupting the control systems for his guided missiles, and counteracting his measures to jam our own equipment.
    This glowing report of achievements in the electronics field fails to include the development of the proximity fuse, which next to radar and sonar was the greatest contribution to electronics made during the period. Additionally, considerable effort was expended upon the development of missiles and, although they were not used operationally to any large extent, had the war been extended they would have been developed into an important weapon.
    In commenting on the indispensable assistance and cooperation of science and industry Fleet Admiral King in the same report stated:
. . . Without this assistance, many of the weapons which have come into being as the result of intensive wartime research and development otherwise never would have been completed and introduced into the fleet.
    It had often been predicted that in a national emergency the totalitarian countries would have a great advantage over the democracies because of their ability to regiment scientific facilities and manpower at will. The results achieved by Germany, Italy and Japan do not bear out this contention. Studies made since the close of the war indicate that in none of these countries was the scientific effort as effectively handled as in the United States. The rapid, effective and original results obtained in bringing science into our effort are proof of the responsiveness of our form of government to meeting emergencies, the technical competence of American scientists, and the productive genius of American industry.
    There is much that can be said in amplification of this last paragraph. Leadership in research within the Axis Powers was vested in Germany which had, long before World War I, emerged as one of the leading scientific nations. Despite her years of experience in this field, she failed to mobilize her scientific talent in order to devise new weapons and techniques and improve old ones. Instead, the German policy was to establish swift standardization in an effort to obtain maximum production. Allied policy, conversely, demanded better and better weapons, and in the end this resulted in their scientific superiority over the Axis countries in the field of electronics.
    The development and application of electronics to warfare had scarcely commenced when we entered the war. Radio communications were still mostly in frequencies below 30 mc. Sonar was fairly well developed insofar as transmitting and receiving equipments were concerned but required much ancillary apparatus to make its use more effective. Radar equipments were still in the experimental stage and few had been installed. The development of this means of detection and location for numerous military purposes is one of the wonders of the age. In addition to these, many other systems were developed during the war, each of which required many advances in design and construction of vacuum tubes, controls, antennas, and other components. Typical of these new developments are the proximity fuse, loran, electronic identification systems, beacons, ground-controlled approach systems for aircraft, automatic bearing indicator direction finders, countermeasures for radio, radar, and sonar, the development of bathythermographs for tactical usage, improved meteorological apparatus, cryptographic and cryptoanalytical devices, the development of communication equipments to carry greater volumes of traffic per kilocycle of band width, and the development of equipment for a greatly expanded communications spectrum which first included the very-high-frequency regions and then expanded into the ultra-high-frequency portion of the spectrum. The vital or important roles of naval research personnel in the development of these systems or devices is related in succeeding chapters. The importance of electronics in modern warfare is best understood when it is realized that it caused revolutionary changes in designs of combatant vessels and aircraft. The magnitude of the development is best described by dollar figures. In 1940 the Bureau of Ships expended $6 million in developing, equipping, installing, and maintaining electronics equipment in ships and at shore stations. One billion dollars was expended for the same purposes in 1945.
    The development of electronic warfare equipment was accompanied by other problems of stupendous magnitude. Personnel had to be trained to design these equipments, engineer them for production, install, maintain and, operate them, afloat, in the air, and ashore. The enormous ship and aircraft building programs intensified these problems. Another problem of serious proportions was the proper use of manufacturing facilities and the assurance that Government activities would not be competing for services. The distribution of equipment to the various stock piles to ensure its availability in the various theaters and its proper issue on the most urgent requirements basis from these stockpiles was another enormous undertaking. These problems resulted in a continued expansion of the headquarters facilities responsible for the program. When the Bureau of Engineering and the Bureau of Construction and Repair were consolidated, in June 1940, into a single Bureau of Ships, the Radio and Sound Division lost its status as a division and became the Radio and Sound Branch of the Design Division. The growth of the electronics program in 1940 and 1941 placed the organization, composed of 39 civilian and military personnel, under great strain. This resulted in the only fundamental reorganization of electronics personnel in the Bureau, when, in October 1942, the Radio and Sound Division of the Bureau of Ships was established. At the war's end it had expanded to a total of 1,205 personnel.
    From the standpoint of radio communications, many problems arose throughout the war which were either solved or minimized by the actions taken. Here again, as in World War I, the communications reserve personnel rendered invaluable service. The ever-increasing numbers of ships, aircraft, tanks and other mobile weapons called for an ever-increasing number of radio circuits. For short-range requirements channels were set up in the very-high- and later in the ultra-high-frequency portion of the spectrum to provide fairly secure tactical communications. In the high-frequency portions, multiplexing and frequency shifting were resorted to in an endeavor to increase the intelligence transmitted per kilocycle. Circuits were speeded up by the adoption of teletypewriter transmission on point-to-point and on some broadcast circuits. These had the advantage of releasing badly needed telegraphic operators to ships and also reduced the numbers required for training.
    The Navy's most serious radio communication problems were in the Pacific theater of operations. In that area enormous radio stations had to be constructed, equipped, and manned to handle a volume of traffic which exceeded several millions of words per day and often exceeded the capacity of all available circuits. This problem was aggravated by the different views concerning message precedence held by the two services and inability to prevent the assignment of unnecessarily high precedences by many originators.


The Navy's requirements for advance electronics systems stimulated invention, improved design, and set the highest possible standards for the industry. It is a giant step from the spark-gap transmitter of a half century ago to the transistorized multiplex of today which can simultaneously transmit 100 words a minute on each of 4 channels. The intricate electronic complexes which look into the sky, under the sea, and direct our guns, missiles, and aircraft, are a far cry from the eyes of a sailor lookout. Yet we merely stand on the threshold of a new and exciting science. If the past is prologue to the future, and if this history has a meaningful story to tell, you may be certain that for the future defense of this great land, the U.S. Navy will continue to lead and show the way into the vast unexplored realm of electronics.
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